A special meeting of the Ector County School Board ran late Thursday evening, after parents and residents lined up to speak out against Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri’s proposed mask mandate resolution being considered by the board. 

In all 33 people addressed the board, with only 5 in support and 28 speaking against the resolution – which ultimately did not result in changing the board’s position in support of the resolution. 

While the board voted unanimously in support of the resolution, a caveat was added by the school’s attorney at the last-minute stating that the mandate would not be implemented by the superintendent until it becomes “medically and legally appropriate.”  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently issued an executive order banning local governments, including school districts from imposing mask mandates, but that didn’t stop a flurry of districts from around the state from issuing mandates despite the governor. 

The defiant actions by numerous school districts set off legal challenges from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has filed or threatened lawsuits against every district that adopts the illegal mask mandates. 

ECISD Superintendent Muri’s resolution would have had the school joining the other districts in defying the governor with illegal mask mandates, however, hours before the school board met the Texas Supreme Court handed down an order that states local governments must obey Abbott’s orders until the court issues a final determination in the case. 

During an interview with reporters after the meeting, Superintendent Muri expressed frustration with the legal inability to impose the mandate, and when asked if State Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) was working with the school regarding the their ability to do so, Muri stated they were working with lawmakers and a school board lobby group to ensure schools would be enabled to impose mandates in the future. 

“School boards across the state of Texas believe in local control, in fact, an association we are a part of the Texas Association of School Boards also advocates for local board control. And we are working with our elected officials to see what we can do legislatively to make sure our boards have the type of ability that they need to impact the students that they serve” Muri told reporters. 

Two local doctors were invited to address the board in support of the mandate, including Dr. Timothy Benton of Texas Tech Health Science Center, and Dr. Rohith Saravanan of Odessa Regency Medical Center, along with 5 people addressing the board in support of the mandate. 

One advocate of the mandate, who said she was a former teacher of 28 years, told the board the mandate was a matter of public health. 

“Tonight, I am here to ask the board of trustees to approve a temporary universal mask policy for anyone who enters school buildings…This is a matter of public health.”

The former teacher pointed to the position of the U.S. Secretary of Education supporting mask mandates in schools and concluded saying “universal masking is the second-best tool we have that will reduce the chance of transmission.”

Parent Jason Richardson joined the overwhelming number of speakers opposed to the mandate and started his address by saying masks prevent positive emotions from being recognized while negative emotions get amplified, and said he hoped there was no political motive behind the board’s decision. 

“I would hope the reason you guys are considering this is that you think you’re doing the right thing, but I hope you’re not doing it because it is politically motivated,” Richardson said. 

“I am against the mandate,” stated Jesse Christensen, who is a former school board candidate. 

“We live in American, and we have life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How can you tell if you are happy behind a mask?” 

Resident Bob Thayer told the board that he believes the science is not settled and it is still being debated regarding masks and that the CDC releases different things all the time. 

“I’m not against you wearing a mask,” Thayer said, further stating, “if you wanna wear a mask, wear a mask. If you wanna wear a rabbit’s foot around your neck to protect yourself against Covid that’s up to you. What concerns me about this is the mandate.”

If implemented, the resolution will require all visitors, staff, and students to wear a mask while indoors or riding a bus and stipulates the mask must cover the mouth and nose. 

The mandate will allow for medical and religious exemptions.  

Until the legal landscape changes, masks will not be mandated as the school. But the district is “strongly recommending” masks be worn while indoors on school property or buses in the meantime.

For now, the State Supreme Court has affirmed Governor Abbott’s orders remain the law of the land. 

Matt Stringer is a journalist from Odessa, Texas.